How does a recent graduate get that first job?

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    I graduated in June, took some time off and now I’m looking for a job. I have a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture but no professional experience or connections. How does a person like me find that first job? I’ve been sending inquiry letters out to firms but I haven’t received any answers. Entry-level jobs don’t seem to be advertised (I’m in NYC and relocation is not an option) and staffing agencies only seem to want people with professional experience. I had an internship while in school but it was performing habitat management fieldwork in a national park so it doesn’t apply to design office experience.  

    Any thoughts, suggestions or feedback are welcome!

    Tosh K

    Network, network, network.  Be open to contract work (hourly short-term).  Make as many friends in the field as possible and be active in NY-ASLA.

    Openings are rarely advertised because most firms are inundated with inquiries as it is.  If you ask for a tour and informational interview, you might get a feel for what’s around.


    Thanks for the feedback! Forgive my ignorance, but what happens at an informational interview and who usually conducts them?  What would I be expected to do in an informational interview? 


    I agree with Tosh, but he forgot the #1 priority–be the most capable, proficient designer you know and prove it with an outstanding portfolio. If you dont have a great portfolio, make it great by reworking old projects. 

    I wholeheartedly agree with Tosh on his point regarding being open to any number of arrangements from part time, contract, hourly, etc–just DO NOT work for free!

    Know something about the firms youre applying and show you have a genuine interest in their type of work by showing similar work in your portfolio or simply asking pertinent questions.


    I actually graduated in May and at one point I thought i would never find a job! I do not know where you are looking to work, or how far you are willing to move/interview, but after sending one resume/portfolio to one company after the other I decided to change strategies.  I wanted to work in the Dallas metro area which is about 6 hours away form my home town.  I called a company that i knew was hiring or was looking for an entry level candidate.  I also looked for companies that did not require over 5 years experience.  What I did was called them and asked to talk to someone who good give me information about the position.  I then told them that i would really like to come by and get an idea of the work environment, and maybe take a tour of their office.  After I warmed up to them I basically just asked them If it would be ok if at some point in the near future if I could come by. 100% of them were thrilled at the idea.  Not sure if it will always be the case but it seemed like the odds would be in your favor.  After I got my first,  I got a few others and set them up for the same weekend so I would not have to make multiple trips.  These trips inevitably become “first impression interviews”.  They will sit you down and ask to see your portfolio, talk to you about your experience in college, what you have done other than school the last couple of years or so, and it makes it much more laid back and less stressful.  

    I actually set up 3 in one weekend and after I had gotten home later that week I got 3 phone calls with 3 job offers.  The one I actually took was initiallly looking for someone with 2-4 years of experience so dont limit yourself to just “entry-level”.  If they like you, then they like you.  

    I told them that it was great to hear back from them so soon, and thanked them again for letting me come down.  I am married so i told them that I would like to discuss it with my wife before I give them a defining answer. I knew which one I wanted to work with the most out of the 3 and got that call second and accepted Immediately.  The 3rd that called I told them that I really enjoyed the visit but was fortunate enough to have been offered a job that I did take.

    What I took out of all of this….Don’t just send your stuff hoping to get a call back.  Get them to answer the door and squeeze your way in while saying hello!!  May sound a little pushy but after all that experience I know that people don’t want to just hire what they see on paper, but they want to work with someone they can work with.

    Try it out, and let me know how you do.  I Would love to hear if this technique works more times than not.


    Thanks Brian, I appreciate the breakdown of how you went about landing a job. It’s the details of how these things come together that’s so mystifying to me.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Goustan BODIN

    If I believe your avatar picture, you look young.

    Fly to work in China, it will blow your mind in more ways than one.


    I think u May kind if have the same mind set as I did when I was still looking..I was almost convinced that whoever interviewed me was gunna be a tight wad exec with no life and wanted only someone with perfect skills in his/her office. However, that was the exact opposite of all the of them..everyone was down to earth and open to talk about whatever you felt comfortable/appropriate. I really actually believe that they would prefer candidates to come to them and set things up rather than reach out.

    Tosh K

    The interviewer can really depend on the firm – sometimes a partner of a firm (even big ones), sometimes it’s HR, other times a junior staff member.  Each one can offer different insights (partners/associates can tell you what they might look for in someone they’d like to nurture up the ladder, HR can tell you what looks great on a resume, junior staff can tell you about mentoring/office culture/transitioning).

    The basic idea of an informational interview is a chance to get to know each other.  You should have a solid portfolio (as nca says, redo/fix/supplement all your school work – most of my peers spent 3~6 months redoing everything), know about the firm as much as you can and have informed questions (learn about their practice, but also general advice in preparing to work for someone like them).  They’ll want to know about your experience in school, trends you see (especially in technology), and how you see yourself entering the profession (type of work you’re interested in, etc).  If you give a good impression you can hope to get a future job offer or a recommendation – I got a lot of leads back even through ’07~’09 that way – it’s a small profession and many if not most have a circle of friends all in the same line of work.

    One thing that’s often overlooked is giving a good first impression of personality, if they have a admin assistant at the front desk chat with them (comment on a family photo, etc. esp with big firms this matters a lot).  A firm’s overall culture is key in its success, so finding a firm that’s a good fit is very important (your coworkers at the very least should enjoy being around you and vise versa).  Little things like a common interest in art/music/sports that pops up during an interview often seals the deal.

    And to echo nca’s other point NEVER work for free – unless you’re volunteering for ASLA chapter or Habitat for Humanity or some other non-profit (if you do contract work, then you can always write off the pro-bono to nonprofits).

    Edward Flaherty

    Hi Kelly and all recent grads, I’ve interviewed a lot of recent graduates–having either MLA only or BLA only, some without internship experience.  In the end, at the first interview it does depend on personalities of each on the day, at the hour…but…but, you, Kelly, especially since you are interviewing in your own home town, you can tip the odds to be more in your favor–here is how.

    1. Carefully assess your own strengths and weaknesses–summarize them down to three sound bite strengths and three sound bite weaknesses.  And make one more list of three–what you expect to learn from the office in the first year.

    2. Identify your sources of job openings–web, newsprint, cold call.

    3. Work your sources hard.

    4. With your list fixed, do two things: call the office receptionist and ask questions about the job needs and then drop by unannounced before you apply or get offered an interview.  At that visit, greet the receptionist on the guise of checking out the neighborhood and how you would get there if you worked there.  Once inside make friends.  Try to learn about the mood of the office and more about the job.  Try to find out who will interview you and hire you.  Have coffee with the receptionist or an intern that might already be working there.

    5. Then back home review your strengths and weaknesses against what you have learned about office and its staff.  Double check the office and staff online.  Now you can customize your resume and portfolio to each office, finalize your package and prepare to submit yourself as a potential employee.

    Knowledge is strength.  Inform yourself about your potential employers.  In a sense you are going there to learn.  It is easier to learn if you respect their design and respect their approach to work and staff.  Again, your knowledge of all involved is your strength, your advantage.  Hard reconnoitering pays off.

    All the best,



    Tosh K

    Ed, good points, but I’d caution on #4 – unannounced visits can be frowned upon, especially at some places in NYC, as they insist on appointments and find them to be more professional.  It seemed prior to the downturn this was less the case, but with so many people looking for work this could be taken the wrong way these days.  Just a thought.


    Thanks for all the great feedback.  My networking opportunities are pretty limited these days but I’ll do my best to get out there more.  It sounds like the informational interview is the real key to getting connected in this industry (at least in New York) if you don’t know anyone.  Feel free to share the names of any NYC firms that you know are looking for entry level staff! 

    Trace One

    New York City Planning needs planners, this could be really interesting, plus New York Environmental Protection has quite a few openings for techs and other stuff. These are good gov. jobs with bennies.  Central Park conservancy needs gardeners – great job if you are young, plus you can work your way up the ladder – Adrien Benepe started as an Urban Park Ranger those many years ago.  Saratoga Associates, good people – are accepting resumes. Eddie Hollander is a good person also, don’t know if he is looking but worth sending a resume.

    I don’t know if you already went through this, but for our first jobs the old school tie was priceless – Penn had a few firms that always hired Penn graduates. Where did  you go to school?

    My last opinion is it is totally luck, don’t ever take it personally. You will just be the right person at the right time, at some point, and get that one job. It is LUCK luck luck, that is all.’But don’t neglect planning and other type jobs – they all are great experience – I did perennial gardens in the Hamptons for three summers – loved it. With my MLA in hand.

    PS, I disagree with above – pressure, unannounced visits, forget that – that is  just annoying. If they want you, they will not prevaricate. If they don’t they won’t  be sweet talked into it.

    did you check out ASLA New York? Dept. of Transportation  jobs looks like.

    You are in new York, buddy! Wish I was you.

    Trace One

    ps, I am assuming you know about New York City Parks and Rec – they have had quite a few jobs for Assistant LA’s recently, but are not currently advertising as far as I can tell. But New York Parks and Rec is the place to be – great contracts, and if you are low in skills, they can use you anyway – a few of my less talented class-mates ended up as Construction Inspectors, a job I would love..

    Good Luck!


    Thanks Trace One!  I’ll check in with the names you’ve mentioned.  I really, really appreciate the suggestions. 

    I went to the City College of New York and we did have a lot of networking opportunities. I kick myself now for not attending more of them! Some of the teachers have hired students in their private practices or provided them with internships but not many. The program is relatively new and they don’t seem to have any tradition of sending their graduates to any particular employer.  

    I’ve applied for several positions with the city DEP but heard nothing back.  Many of their positions with Intern in the title still are looking for people with over 5 years of experience managing projects with over $1,000,000 price tags! I really don’t understand if this is an industry norm or if everybody just lies about their background. 

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